Doom Patrol: The Silver Age volume 2


By Arnold Drake, Bob Haney, Bruno Premiani, Bob Brown, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0098-4 (TPB)

1963 was the year when cautious comicbook publishers finally realised that superheroes were back in a big way and began reviving or creating a host of costumed characters to battle outrageous menaces and dastardly villains.

Thus it was that the powers-that-be at National Comics decided venerable anthology-mystery title My Greatest Adventure would dip its toe in the waters with a radical take on the fad. Still, famed for cautious publishing, they introduced a startling squad of champions with their thematic roots still firmly planted in the B-movie monster films of the era that informed the parent comic.

No traditional team of masked adventurers, this cast comprised a robot, a mummy and an occasional 50-foot woman, joining forces with and guided by a vivid, brusque, domineering, crippled mad scientist to fight injustice in a whole new way…

Covering June 1965 to November 1966, this stunning trade paperback – and eBook – compilation collects the Fabulous Freaks’ eccentric exploits from Doom Patrol #96-107, and includes a brace of team-ups: one from The Brave and the Bold #65 and an early crossover from Challengers of the Unknown #48.

The dramas were especially enhanced by the drawing skills of Italian cartoonist and classicist artist Giordano Bruno Premiani, whose highly detailed, subtly humanistic illustration made even the strangest situation dauntingly authentic and grittily believable. He was also the perfect vehicle to squeeze every nuance of comedy and pathos from the captivatingly involved and grimly light-hearted scripts by Arnold Drake who always proffered a tantalising believably world for the outcast heroes to strive in.

Premier tale ‘The Doom Patrol’ was co-scripted by Drake & Bob Haney, detailing how a mysterious wheelchair-bound scientist summoned three outcasts to his home through the promise of changing their miserable lives forever…

Competitive car racer Cliff Steele had died in a horrific pile up, but his undamaged brain had been transplanted into a fantastic mechanical body. Test pilot Larry Trainor had been trapped in an experimental stratospheric plane and become permanently radioactive, with the dubious benefit of gaining a semi-sentient energy avatar which could escape his body to perform incredible stunts for up to a minute at a time.

To pass safely amongst men Trainor had to constantly wrap himself in special radiation-proof bandages.

Ex-movie star Rita Farr had been exposed to mysterious swamp gases which gave her the terrifying, unpredictable and – at first – uncontrolled ability to shrink or grow to incredible sizes.

The outcasts were brought together by brilliant but enigmatic Renaissance Man the Chief, who sought to mould the solitary misfits into a force for good. He quickly proved his point when a mad bomber attempted to blow up the city docks. The surly savant directed the trio of strangers in defusing it and no sooner had the misfits realised their true worth than they were on their first mission…

…And they were off and running…

Now two years later Doom Patrol #96, opens on ‘The Day the World Went Mad!’, as frantic investigations reveal that a global wave of insanity is being caused by a deadly alliance of old foes The Brotherhood of Evil, alien tyrant Garguax and undying terrorist General Immortus. Cue last-ditch heroics …

In issue #97 that sinister syndicate attacks Earth by transforming innocent citizens into crystal, spectacularly resulting in ‘The War against the Mind Slaves’, heralding the return of super-rich wannabee and self-made superhero Mento, resulting in a stunning showdown free-for-all on the moon, after which #98 sees both ‘The Death of the Doom Patrol’ – a grievous over-exaggeration on behalf of transmutational foe Mr. 103 – who was actually compelled to save Caulder from radiation poisoning – and a Bob Brown-drawn solo-thriller ‘60 Sinister Seconds’ in which Negative Man has to find and make safe four atomic bombs in different countries within one minute…

Brown also handled both tales in Doom Patrol #99, starting with an old-fashioned battle against a deranged entomologist whose mechanical insects deliver ‘The Deadly Sting of the Bug Man’ before proceeding to the groundbreaking first appearance of shape-shifting juvenile delinquent ‘The Beast-Boy’. He burgles then saves the team with his incredible ability to become any animal he could imagine…

An extended storyline began with #100 and ‘The Fantastic Origin of Beast-Boy’ (illustrated by Premiani) wherein the obnoxious kid is revealed as orphan Gar Logan: a child being slowly swindled out of his inheritance by his ruthless guardian Nicholas Galtry.

The conniving accountant even leases his emerald-hued charge to scientist Dr. Weir for assorted experiments, but when the Patrol later tackle rampaging dinosaurs, the trail leads unerringly to Gar who at last explains his uncanny powers…

Whilst in Africa as a toddler, Logan contracted a rare disease. His scientist father then tried an experimental cure which left him the colour of cabbage but with the ability to change shape at will. Now it appears that Weir has used the lad’s altered biology to unlock the secrets of evolution… or has he?

Despite foiling the scheme, the team have no choice but to return the boy to his guardian. However, Rita is not prepared to leave the matter unresolved…

The anniversary issue also saw the start of an extended multi-part thriller exploring Cliff’s early days after his accident and subsequent resurrection, beginning with ‘Robotman… Wanted Dead or Alive’.

Following Caulder’s implantation of Cliff’s brain into the mechanical body, the shock drove the patient crazy and Steele went on a city-wide rampage…

Doom Patrol #101 is riotous romp ‘I, Kranus, Robot Emperor!’, wherein an apparently alien mechanoid has a far more terrestrial and terrifying origin, but the real meat of the issue comes from the events of the subtle war between Galtry and the Chief for possession of Beast Boy.

The tale ends on a pensive cliffhanger as the Patrol then dashed off to rescue fellow adventurers The Challengers of the Unknown – but before that the second instalment of the Robotman saga sees the occasionally rational, if paranoid, Cliff Steele hunted by the authorities and befriended by crippled, homeless derelicts in ‘The Lonely Giant’

Firmly established in the heroic pantheon, the Doom Patrol surprisingly teamed with fellow outsiders The Challengers of the Unknown at the end of 1965. The crossover began in the Challs’ title (specifically #48, cover-dated February/March 1966). Scripted by Drake and limned by Brown, ‘Twilight of the Challengers’ opened with the death-cheaters’ apparent corpses, and the DP desperately seeking who killed them…

Thanks to the Chief, our heroes recover and a furious coalition takes off after a cabal of bizarre super-villains. The drama explosively concluded in Doom Patrol #102, with ‘8 Against Eternity’ battling murderous shape-shifting maniac Multi-Man and his robotic allies to stop a horde of zombies from a lost world attacking humanity.

Another team-up follows as Haney, Dick Giordano & Sal Trapani craft ‘Alias Negative Man!’ for The Brave and the Bold #65 (May 1966), wherein Larry’s radio energy avatar is trapped by The Brotherhood of Evil and the Chief recruits The Flash to impersonate and replace him…

Doom Patrol #102 offered two tales, beginning with a tragedy that ensues when Professor Randolph Ormsby asks for the team’s aid in a space shot. When the doddery savant is transformed into a rampaging flaming monster dubbed ‘The Meteor Man’, it takes the entire team – as well as Beast Boy and Mento – to secure a happy outcome.

‘No Home for a Robot’, however, continues to reveal the Mechanical Marvel’s early days following Caulder’s implantation of Cliff’s brain into an artificial body. The shock had seemingly driven the patient crazy and Steele subsequently went on a city-wide rampage, continuously hunted and hounded by the police. Here the ferrous fugitive finds temporary respite with his brother Randy, but Cliff quickly realises trouble will trail him anywhere…

Issue #104 astounded everybody as Rita abruptly stops refusing the loathed Steve and becomes ‘The Bride of the Doom Patrol’. However, the guest star-stuffed wedding is almost spoiled when Garguax and the Brotherhood of Evil crash the party to murder the groom. So unhappy are Cliff and Larry with Rita’s “betrayal”, that they almost let them…

Even whilst indulging in her new bride status in issue #105, Rita can’t abandon the team, joining them to tackle old elemental enemy Mr. 103 during a ‘Honeymoon of Terror’, before back-up yarn ‘The Robot-Maker Must Die’ concludes the origin of Cliff Steele as the renegade attempts to kill the surgeon who had imprisoned him in a metal hell – which finally give Caulder a chance to fix the malfunction in Steele’s systems…

‘Blood Brothers’ in #106 introduces domestic disharmony as Rita steadfastly refuses to be a good trophy wife and resumes the hunt for Mr. 103 with the rest of the DP. Her separate lives continue to intersect, however, when Galtry hires the elemental assassin to wipe Gar and his freakish allies off the books.

The back-up section shifts focus onto ‘The Private World of Negative Man’: recapitulating Trainor’s doomed flight and the radioactive close encounter which turned him into a walking mummy. Tragically, even after being allowed to walk amongst men again, the gregarious pilot find himself utterly isolated and alone…

The Silver Age celebrations pause here with Doom Patrol #107 which begins an epic story-arc concerning ‘The War over Beast Boy’. Here Rita and Steve start legal proceedings to get Gar and his money away from Galtry, and the embezzler responds by opening a criminal campaign to beggar Dayton, inadvertently aligning himself with the Patrol’s greatest foes. Already distracted by the depredations of marauding automaton Ultimax, the hard-pressed heroes swiftly fall to the murderous mechanoid and Rita is dispatched to a barbaric sub-atomic universe…

The secret history of Negative Man continues and also ends on a cliffhanger with ‘The Race Against Dr. Death’. When fellow self-imposed outcast Dr. Drew tries to draw the pilot into a scheme to destroy the human species which had cruelly excluded them both, the ebony energy being demonstrates the incredible power it possesses to save the world from fiery doom.

To Be Continued…

Although as kids we all happily suspended disbelief and bought into the fanciful antics of the myriad masked heroes available, somehow the exploits of Doom Patrol – and their strangely synchronistic Marvel counterparts The X-Men (freaks and outcasts, wheelchair geniuses, both debuting in the summer of 1963) – always seemed just a bit more “real” than the usual cape-&-costume crowd.

With the edge of time and experience on my side it’s obvious just how incredibly mature and hardcore Drake, Haney & Premiani’s take on superheroes actually was. These superbly engaging, frantically fun and breathtakingly beautiful tales should rightfully rank amongst the finest Fights ‘n’ Tights tales ever told.
© 1965, 1966, 2020 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Question: Zen and Violence


By Dennis O’Neil, Denys Cowan & Rick Magyar (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1579-8 (TPB)

Denny O’Neil died on June 11th. It didn’t make the news or mostly anywhere. For comics readers of my vintage he was the voice of our generation, carrying us through some of the most turbulent times in world history and using his gifts to pass on a philosophy never before seen in comics. He utterly remade Batman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Superman. He created the relevancy movement, bringing social conscience back to comics for the first time since Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster were told to tone it down with the wife beaters and grasping mine owners…

He was a remarkably insightful and prolific writer and a nurturing, imaginative editor. Think of a hero or title: Denny probably made it better. We’ve been the poorer since his retirement, but now there’s no chance of one last hurrah…

One of DC’s best comics series of the 1980’s – and probably the closest to O’Neil’s personal beliefs – is criminally out of print in trade paperback format and still hasn’t made it to digital editions yet, but it’s something well worth tracking down.

The Question, as created by Steve Ditko, was Vic Sage: a driven, justice-obsessed journalist who sought out crime and corruption irrespective of the consequences. This Charlton “Action-Line Hero” was purchased by DC when the Connecticut outfit folded and was the template for the compulsive avenger Rorschach when Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons first drafted the miniseries that would become the groundbreaking Watchmen.

The contemporary rumour-mill had it that since the creators couldn’t be persuaded to produce a spin-off Rorschach comic, the company went with a reworking of the Ditko original…

An ordinary man pushed to the edge by his obsessions, Vic Sage used his fists and a mask that made him look utterly faceless to get answers (and justice) whenever normal journalistic methods failed. After a few minor appearances around the DC universe, Sage got a job in the town where he grew up.

Hub City is a hell-hole, the most corrupt and morally bankrupt municipality in America. Mayor Wesley Fermin is a degenerate, drunken sot and the real power is insane cleric and political advisor Reverend Jeremiah Hatch, whose hand-picked gang of “heavies” are supplemented by the world’s deadliest assassin, Lady Shiva.

Reuniting with Aristotle Rodor, the philosopher-scientist who first created his faceless mask and other gimmicks, Sage determines to clean up The Hub, but despite early victories against thugs and grafters, is easily defeated by Shiva, and left to the mercies of Hatch and his gang. A brutal beating by the gangsters breaks every bone in his body and – after shooting him in the head – the callous minions simply dump his body in the freezing waters of the river.

Obviously, he doesn’t die. Rescued by the inscrutable Shiva, but utterly crippled, Sage is sent into the wilderness to be healed and trained by O’Neil’s other legendary martial arts creation, Richard Dragon. A year passes…

It’s a new type of hero who returns to a Hub City which has sunk even lower into degradation. Sage’s old girlfriend is now the Mayor’s wife, Reverend Hatch has graduated from thugs to terrorist employees, and his madness has driven him to actually seek the destruction of Humanity. Will the new Question be sufficient answer to the problems of a society so utterly debased that the apocalypse seems like an improvement?

Combating Western dystopia with Eastern Thought and martial arts action is not a new concept, but the author’s spotlight on cultural problems rather than super-heroics make this series O’Neil’s most philosophical work, and Denys Cowan’s quirky, edgy art – inked with jagged precision by Rick Magyar – imbues this darkly adult, powerfully sophisticated thriller with a maturity that is simply breathtaking.

This is a story about dysfunction: Social, societal, political, emotional, familial and even methodological. The normal masked avenger tactics don’t work in a “real”-er world, and some solutions require better Questions…
© 1986, 1987, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Golden Age volume 6


By Bill Finger, Don Cameron, Jack Schiff, Mort Weisinger, Alvin Schwartz, Joe Samachson, Joseph Greene, Edmond Hamilton, Bob Kane, Dick Sprang, Jack Burnley, Jerry Robinson & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9416-8 (TPB)

Debuting a year after Superman, “The Bat-Man” (and latterly Robin, the Boy Wonder) confirmed DC/National Comics as the market frontrunner and conceptual leader of the burgeoning comicbook industry.

Having established the parameters of the metahuman with their Man of Steel, the physical mortal perfection and dashing derring-do of the strictly-human Dynamic Duo rapidly became the swashbuckling benchmark by which all other four-colour crime-busters were judged.

Batman: The Golden Age is a series of paperback feasts (there are also weightier, pricier, more capacious hardback Omnibus editions available, and digital iterations too) re-presenting the Dark Knight’s earliest exploits.

Presented in original publishing release order, the tomes trace the character’s growth into the icon who would inspire so many and develop the resilience needed to survive the stifling cultural vicissitudes that coming decades would inflict upon him and his partner, Robin.

Re-presenting a glorious and astounding treasure-trove of cape-&-cowl classics and iconic covers from Detective Comics #82-92, Batman #21-25 as well as contemporary companion tales from World’s Finest Comics #12-14, this book covers groundbreaking escapades from April/May 1943 to December 1943 to October 1944: with the Dynamic Duo continually developing and storming ahead of all competition even as the war and its themes began to fade away from the collective comics consciousness.

I’m certain it’s no coincidence that many of these Golden Age treasures are also some of the best and most reprinted tales in the Batman canon. These Golden Age greats are some of the finest tales in Batman’s decades-long canon, as lead writers Bill Finger and Don Cameron, supplemented by Joe Samachson, Jack Schiff, Alvin Schwartz, Joe Greene and Mort Weisinger, pushed the boundaries of the adventure medium whilst graphic genius Dick Sprang slowly superseded and surpassed Bob Kane and Jack Burnley, making the feature uniquely his own and keeping the Peerless Pair at the forefront of a vast army of superhero successes. Moreover, with the end of WWII in sight, the escapades became upbeat and more wide-ranging…

These tales were crafted just as triumph was turning in the air and an odour of hopeful optimism was creeping into the escapist, crime-busting yarns – and especially the stunning covers – seen here in the work of Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Bob Kane Jack Burnley, Dick Sprang, Charles Paris and Stan Kaye…

War always stimulates creativity and advancement and these sublime adventures of Batman and Robin more than prove that axiom as the growing band of creators responsible for producing myriad adventures of the Dark Knight hit an artistic peak which only stellar stable-mate Superman and Fawcett’s Captain Marvel were able to equal or even approach.

We start here with Detective Comics #82 as Cameron, Kane & George Roussos explore the dark side of American Football through the rise and explosive downfall of the ‘Quarterback of Crime!’ after which premiere anthology World’s Finest Comics #12 reveals how ‘Alfred Gets His Man!’ (Finger & Sprang), as Batman’s faithful new retainer revives his own boyhood dreams of being a successful detective with hilarious and action-packed results…

Portly butler Alfred’s diet regime thereafter led the Gotham Guardians to a murderous mesmerising medic and criminal insurance scam in ‘Accidentally on Purpose!’, courtesy of Cameron, Kane & Roussos (Detective #83), after which Batman #21 caters an all-Sprang art extravaganza.

The drama opened with slick Schiff-scripted tale ‘The Streamlined Rustlers’, following the Gotham Gangbusters way out west to solve a devilish mystery and crush a gang of beef-stealing black market black hats, after which Cameron describes the antics of murderous big city mobster Chopper Gant who cons a military historian into planning his capers and briefly stymies Batman and Robin with his warlike ‘Blitzkrieg Bandits!’

Alvin Schwartz penned delightfully convoluted romp ‘His Lordship’s Double’ which sees newly dapper, slimline manservant Alfred asked to impersonate a purportedly crowd-shy aristocratic inventor… only to become the victim in a nasty scheme to secure the true toff’s latest invention…

It all culminates with ‘The Three Eccentrics’ by Joe Greene, which detailing the wily Penguin’s schemes to empty the coffers of a trio of Gotham’s wealthiest misfits…

Over in Detective Comics #84, Mort Weisinger & Sprang (with layouts by Ed Kressy)

pit the Partners in Peril against an incredible Underworld University churning out ‘Artists in Villainy’ before #85 – written by Bill Finger – glories in Sprang’s first brush with the Clown Prince of Crime. In one of the most madcap moments in the entire annals of adventure, Batman and his arch-foe almost unite to hunt for the daring desperado who stole the Harlequin of Hate’s shtick and glory as ‘The Joker’s Double’

World’s Finest Comics #13 featured ‘The Curse of Isis!’ (Finger & Jack Burnley, inked by brother Ray & Roussos): a maritime mystery of superstition, smugglers and sabotage after which Batman #22 offers another quicksilver quartet of classics beginning with ‘The Duped Domestics!’ by Schwartz, Bob Kane & Jerry Robinson, wherein a select number of Gotham’s butlers are targeted by a sultry seductress looking for easy inroads to swanky houses. Despite being an old enemy of Batman’s, “Belinda” more than meets her match when Alfred becomes her next patsy…

When the little rich boy secretly takes a menial job, his generous guardian is rightly baffled but after ‘Dick Grayson, Telegraph Boy!’ (Finger, Burney & Robinson) exposes a criminal enterprise centred around Gotham Observatory, the method of his madness soon becomes clear.

A new solo series debuted as Mort Weisinger & Robinson launched ‘The Adventures of Alfred’ with ‘Conversational Clue!’, wherein Batman’s batman misapprehends an overheard word at the library and stumbles into a safecracking gang. The issue concludes with ‘The Cavalier Rides Again!’ (Finger, Burnley & Charles Paris) as the Dashing Desperado mystifyingly begins bagging cheap imitations rather than authentic booty in his ongoing campaign to best the Batman…

In Detective #86, Cameron & Sprang recount how a sleuthing contest between Bruce, Dick and Alfred leads to a spectacular battle against sinister smugglers in ‘Danger Strikes Three!’ and further dramas unfold in #87’s ‘The Man of a Thousand Umbrellas’ written by Joseph Greene.

The Penguin had a bizarre appeal and the Wicked Old Bird has his own cover banner whenever he resurfaced, as in this beguiling crime-spree highlighting his uncanny arsenal of weaponised parasols, brollies and bumbershoots…

The Harlequin of Hate led in Batman #23, with Finger, Sprang & Gene McDonald’s eccentric thriller ‘The Upside Down Crimes!’, wherein the Joker turns the town topsy-turvy in his latest series of looting larcenies after which smitten Dick’s bold endeavours save classmate and ‘Damsel in Distress!’ (Cameron & Sprang) Marjory Davenport and her dad from gangster kidnappers. Unfortunately for him, she soon has her head turned by flamboyant Robin and the Boy Wonder becomes his own rival…

Anonymously scripted but again rendered by Jerry Robinson, ‘The Adventures of Alfred: Borrowed Butler!’ finds the domestic detective loaned out by Bruce Wayne to a snooty neighbour and accidentally uncovering an insider’s scheme to burgle the place.

Wrapping up this issue is another fact-packed “Police Division Story” with Batman and Robin joining the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to stop a vicious ring of fur bandits who have decided to forego robbing big city stores. Instead, the ‘Pelt Plunderers!’ (by Joe Samachson & Sprang) head due north to steal directly from the trappers…

As World War II staggered to a close and Home Front tensions subsided, spies gradually gave way to more domestic threats and menaces. Detective #88 offered a nasty glimpse at true villainy when ‘The Merchants of Misery’ – by Greene – pits the Dynamic Duo against merciless and murderous loan sharks preying on poverty-stricken families, whilst ‘Laboratory Loot!’, by Don Cameron in #89, sees the return of flamboyant crime enthusiast The Cavalier, who is ignominiously forced to join temporarily forces with Batman to thwart petty gangsters stealing loot he’d earmarked as his own…

World’s Finest Comics #14 again highlighted maritime menace as ‘Salvage Scavengers!’ (Finger Robinson & Roussos) plundered Gotham Harbor before Batman #24 adds a smidgen of science fiction flair and a dash of sheer whimsy to the regular mix. ‘It Happened in Rome’ (Samachson & Sprang) introduces Professor Carter Nichols who devises a method of time-travel dependant on deep hypnosis. His first subjects are old friend Bruce Wayne and his ward, who both wing back metaphysically back centuries for a sightseeing trip and end up saving a charioteer from race-fixers as Batmanus and Robin

Bruce also plays a pivotal role in ‘Convict Cargo!’ (Cameron & Sprang), masquerading as an embezzler to expose a ring of thugs offering perfect getaways to Gotham’s white-collar criminals. Happily, when the villain vacations turn out to be one-way trips, Gotham’s Guardians are on hand to mop up the pirates responsible.

Cameron & Robinson then describe how ‘The Adventures of Alfred: Police Line-Up!’ leads the bewildered butler into trailing the wrong crook but still nabbing a mob of bad eggs before portly purveyors of peril Tweedledum and Tweedledee(soon to be major motion picture stars!) connive their way into the position of ‘The Mayors of Yonville!’

Their flagrant abuse of civic power dumps the Dynamic Duo into jail but still isn’t enough to keep their goldmine scam from coming to light once the heroes bust out…

Detective Comics #90 exposes ‘Crime Between the Acts!’ (Greene & Kane) as the Caped Crusaders followed a Mississippi Riverboat full of crooked carnival performers from one plundered town to another, before Edmond Hamilton scripts a terrifically twisty tale in ‘The Case of the Practical Joker’, wherein some crazy and wisely anonymous prankster starts pulling stunts and having fun at the Crime Clown’s expense.

Batman #25 opens with lauded classic ‘Knights of Knavery’ (Cameron, Burnley& Robinson) which sees arch rivals Penguin and Joker join forces to steal the world’s biggest emerald and outwit all opposition, before falling foul of their own mistrust and arrogance once the Dark Knight puts his own thinking cap on.

Schwartz then leads the artists on an exotic journey as ‘The Sheik of Gotham City!’ sees an Arabian refugee working as a cab driver in Gotham abruptly restored to sovereignty over his usurped desert kingdom after our heroes foil an assassination attempt, before ‘The Adventures of Alfred: The Mesmerised Manhunter!’ (Cameron & Robinson) finds the off-duty domestic a plaything of a stage magician whilst simultaneously foiling a box office heist…

The action and suspense wrap up in spectacular style as Finger, Burnley & Robinson detail a saga of sabotage and redemption when the Dynamic Duo join the rough-and-ready electrical engineers known as ‘The Kilowatt Cowboys!’

As if the job of bringing the nation’s newest hydroelectric dam on line is not dangerous enough and a plague of thefts by murderous copper thieves isn’t cutting into productivity, most of Batman’s time is spent stopping rival wire men Jack and Alec from killing each other…

Greene and Sprang bring this marvel of nostalgic adventure to a close with ‘Crime’s Manhunt’ in Detective #92, with a particularly nasty band of bandits resorting to bounty hunting and turning in all their friends and associates for hefty rewards. Once they run out of pals to betray, they simply organise jailbreaks to provide more crooks to catch: a measure the Dark Knight takes extreme umbrage with…

The history of the American comicbook industry in almost every major aspect stem from the raw, vital and still powerfully compelling tales of DC’s twin icons: Superman and Batman.

It’s only fair and fitting that both those characters are still going strong and that their earliest adventures can be relived in chronological order in a variety of formats from relatively economical newsprint paperbacks to deluxe hardcover commemorative Archive editions – and digital formats too.

These are the stories that cemented the popularity of Batman and Robin, bringing welcome surcease to millions during a time of tremendous hardship and crisis. Even if these days aren’t nearly as perilous or desperate – and there ain’t many who thinks otherwise! – the power of such work to rouse and charm is still potent and just as necessary. You owe it to yourself and your family and even your hamster to Buy This Book…
© 1943, 1944, 2019 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Outsiders by Judd Winick volume 1: The Darker Side of Justice


By Judd Winick, Geoff Johns, Phil Jimenez, Tom Raney, ChrisCross, Alé Garcia, Carlo Barberi, Ivan Reis, & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8851-8 (TPB)

Once upon a time, superheroes sat around their assorted lairs or went about their civilian pursuits until the call of duty summoned them like firemen – or Thunderbirds – to deal with a breaking emergency. In the grim and gritty world after Crisis on Infinite Earths, the concept changed with a number of costumed adventurers evolving into pre-emptive strikers – as best exemplified by covert penal battalion and cinema darlings The Suicide Squad. Soon the philosophy had spread far and wide…

Following the break-up of Young Justice and the – of course, temporary – death of founding Teen Titan Donna Troy, a number of her grief-stricken comrades also changed from First Responders to dedicated – if morally contentious – hunters tracking down threats and menaces before they attacked… or indeed committed crimes at all…

This volume collects the initial storyline which introduced Judd Winick’s aggressive new take on edgy team-concept the Outsiders, compiling material from Teen Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day, Teen Titans/Outsiders Secret Files 2003 and issues #1-7 of the compelling and much-missed monthly comicbook that sprang from the first two…

Winick, Alé Garcia and inkers Trevor Scott, Marlo Alquiza & Lary Stucker subdivided the tale into ‘Invocation’, ‘Commencement’ and ‘Graduation Day’ as a really sexy robot arrives from the future just as juvenile superhero team Young Justice are getting on each other’s nerves and breaking up.

Her confused actions inadvertently release a deadly android stored at S.T.A.R. Labs, which neither the child heroes nor the Teen Titans can stop. In a cataclysmic battle both Omen and Donna Troy are killed. These tragedies lead to the dissolution of Young Justice, the formation of the covert and pre-emptive Outsiders and the reformation of a new Titans group dedicated to better training the heroes of tomorrow.

Even though a frightfully contrived ploy to launch some new titles, this tale is still a punchy and effective thriller from writer Winick, penciller Alé Garcia & inkers Trevor Scott, Larry Stucker and Marlo Alquiza.

In the aftermath of the deadly debacle, the surviving champions reformed the Teen Titans as a group dedicated to better training the heroes of tomorrow. However, CIA trained ex-Green Arrow sidekick Arsenal felt that it was not enough and convinced the heartbroken Nightwing to help devise a covert and pre-emptive pack of professionals to take out perceived threats before innocent lives were endangered. Teen Titans/Outsiders Secret Files 2003 contributed a brace of tales setting the scene, beginning with ‘A Day After…’ by Winick, Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Mark Campos which peeks into the private lives of all involved whilst ‘Who was Donna Troy’ – written and drawn by Phil Jimenez, with inks by Andy Lanning – is a short, moving eulogy for the character set at her funeral with friends and guest-stars discussing her life and career.

The series proper begins with the 3-parter ‘Roll Call’, illustrated by Tom Raney & Scott Hanna. ‘Opening Offers’introduces new characters Thunder (daughter of original Outsider Black Lightning) and enigmatic super girl Grace, established player Jade, recently resurrected and amnesiac Rex Mason AKA Metamorpho the Element Man and, in a not particularly welcome, wise or team-building move, the futuristic fem-bot who had started the whole mess.

With her memory-banks scrubbed clean and desperately keen to redeem herself, Indigo adds eagerness and innocence to an embittered, but highly motivated and very determined team…

Their first mission catches them off-guard after a cruise ship is hijacked and an army of talking gorillas invades New York under the command of super-ape Grodd. However, the devastating actions of ‘Lawyers, Guns and Monkeys’ is quickly revealed to be no more than a sinister diversion as the Joker uses the chaos to abduct new American President Lex Luthor, leaving the team with the unwelcome task of rescuing one of the people they would most like to take out in ‘Joke’s on You’

ChrisCross & Sean Parsons depict the Outsiders’ first true hunting party in ‘Brothers in Blood’: part 1 ‘Small Potatoes’ as, after a series of small-time busts (acting on information from a mysterious and secret source), the squad uncover a diabolical scheme by religious maniac Brother Blood to steal one million babies…

The cult leader activates hypnotised deep-cover agents in ‘Finders Sleepers’ and almost murders Arsenal, but even as the hero is undergoing life-saving surgery, the Outsiders – assisted by two vengeful generations of Green Arrow – rocket to Antarctica where Blood is attempting to free and recruit 1,600 metahuman villains incarcerated in maximum security super-prison the Slab.

As the battle rages and casualties mount, Nightwing is forced to choose between saving the infants or allowing Blood and an army of criminals to escape in concluding chapter ‘Pandora’s Box’

This first collection ends on a powerfully poignant and personal note as Metamorpho at last discovers the shocking reason for his lack of memories and faces ultimate dissolution in the superbly downbeat and disturbing ‘Oedipus Rex’ (by Raney & Hanna)…

Adding extra lustre and clarity, information pages on Thunder, Arsenal, Nightwing, Jade, Grace, Indigo & Metamorpho by Winick, Jason Pearson, Garcia. Raney & Mike McKone, reveal all you need to know about the secret strike force…

Fast-paced, action-packed, cynically sharp and edgily effective, Outsiders was one of the very best series pursuing the “take-‘em out first” concept and resulted in some of the very best Fights ‘n’ Tights action of the last ten years. Still punchy, evocative and highly effective, these thrillers will delight older fans of the genre.
© 2003, 2004, 2019 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Golden Age Flash Archives volume 1


By Gardner F. Fox, Harry Lampert, E.E. Hibbard, Hal Sharp & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0784-7 (HB)

The innovative fledgling company that became DC published the first ever comic book super-speedster and over the decades has constantly added more to its pantheon of stars. Devised, created and written by Gardner Fox and initially visually realised by Harry Lampert, Jay Garrick debuted as the very first Monarch of Motion in Flash Comics #1. He quickly – of course – became a veritable sensation.

“The Fastest Man Alive” wowed readers of anthologies like Flash Comics, All Star Comics, Comics Cavalcade and other titles – as well as solo vehicle All-Flash Quarterly – for just over a decade before changing tastes benched him and most other first-generation costumed crimebusters in the early1950s.

His invention as a strictly single-power superhero created a new trend in the burgeoning action-adventure Funnybook marketplace, and his particular riff was specifically replicated many times at various companies where myriad Fast Furies sprang up such as Johnny Quick , Hurricane, Silver Streak, the Whizzer, Quicksilver and Snurtle McTurtlethe Terrific Whatzit amongst so many others…

After half a decade of mostly interchangeable cops, cowboys and cosmic invaders, the concept of human speedsters and the superhero genre in general was spectacularly revived by Julie Schwartz in 1956. Showcase #4 revealed how police scientist Barry Allen became the second hero to run with the concept. We’ve not looked back since – and if we did it would all be a great big blur…

This charmingly beguiling deluxe Archive (sadly not available in not-quite-faster-than-light digital) edition collects the first year and a half – spanning January 1940 to May 1941 – of the irrepressible Garrick’s whimsically eccentric exploits in 17 (regrettably untitled) adventures from the anthology Flash Comics, revealing an appealing rawness, light-hearted whimsy and scads of narrative experimentation in tales of a brilliant nerd and (ostensibly) physical sad-sack who became a social reformer and justice-dispensing human meteor.

Following a fulsome Foreword from sometime Flash scribe Mark Waid, the fast fictions commence with the debut of ‘The Fastest Man Alive’ speedily delivering in 15 pages an origin and returning cast, and staging a classic confrontation with a sinister cabal of gangsters.

It all started years previously when student Garrick passed out in the lab at Midwestern University, only to awaken hyper-charged and the fastest creature on Earth thanks to the “hard water fumes” he had inhaled whilst unconscious. After weeks recovering in hospital, the formerly-frail chemist realised the exposure had given him super-speed and endurance. He promptly sought to impress his sort-of girlfriend Joan Williams by becoming an unstoppable football player…

Time passed, the kids graduated and Garrick moved to New York where, appalled by rampant crime, he decided to do something about it. The Flash operates mostly in secret until one day, whilst idly playing tennis with himself, Jay meets Joan again, just as mobsters try to kill her in a drive-by shooting.

Catching the storm of bullets, Jay gets reacquainted with his former paramour and discovers she is a target of criminal combine the Faultless Four: master criminals set on obtaining her father’s invention the Atomic Bombarder. In the blink of an eye Flash smashes the sinister schemes of the gang and diabolical leader Sieur Satan, saving Joan’s life whilst revelling in the sheer liberating fun and freedom of being gloriously unstoppable…

In his second appearance The Flash stumbles upon a showgirl’s murder and discovers that Yankee mobster Boss Goll and British aristocrat Lord Donelin plan to take over the entire entertainment industry with ruthless strong-arm tactics. The speedster is as much hindered as helped by wilful, “headstrong” Joan who begins her own lifetime obsession of pesky do-gooding here…

Everett E. Hibbard began a decade-long association with Flash in #3, when Major Williams’ Atomic Bombarder is targeted by foreign spies. The elderly boffin framed for treason prompts Garrick to come to his future father-in-law’s aid, before Jay and Joan smash an off-shore gambling ring graduating to kidnapping and blackmail in #4.

During these early adventures, Flash seldom donned his red, blue and yellow outfit; usually operating invisibly or undercover to play super-speed pranks with merciless, puckish glee. That started changing in #5, when the speedster saves an elderly artist from hit-men to foil mad collector Vandal who uses murder to increase the market value of his purchases.

Flash Comics #6 found Jay and Joan at old Alma Mater Midwestern, foiling a scheme to dope athletes trying to qualify for the Olympics, before #7 saw a stopover in Duluth lead to the foiling of gambler Black Mike who was industriously fixing motorcar races with a metal melting ray. For #8, the Vizier of Velocity tracks down seemingly corrupt contractors building shoddy, dangerous buildings only to find the graft and skulduggery go much further up the financial and civic food chain…

In issue #9, gangsters get hold of a scientist’s invention and the Flash finds himself battling a brigade of giant Gila Monsters, after which #10 depicts the downfall of a political cabal in the pocket of gangster Killer Kelly and stealing from the schools they administered. For #11, Garrick meets his first serious opponent in kidnap racketeer The Chief, whose sinister brilliance enables him to devise stroboscopic glasses to track and target the invisibly fast crime-crusher…

With the threat of involvement in the “European War” a constant subject of American headlines, Flash Comics #12 (December 1940) had the heroic human hurricane intervene to save tiny Ruritanian nation Kurtavia from ruthless invasion. His spectacular lightning war sees Garrick sinking submarines, repelling land armies and crushing airborne blitzkriegs for a fairy tale happy ending here, but within a year the process would become a patriotic morale booster repeated ad infinitum in every American comic book as the real world brutally intruded on the industry and nation…

Back in the USA for #13, Garrick assists old friend Jim Carter in cowboy country where the young inheritor of a silver mine is gunned down by murdering owlhoots. Jay then heads back east to crush a criminal combine sabotaging city subway construction in #14 and saves a circus from robbery, sabotage and poor attendances in #15.

Throughout all these yarns Jay paid scant attention to preserving any kind of secret identity – a fact that would soon change – but as Hal Sharp took over illustrating with #16 (Hibbard presumably devoting his energies to the contents of the forthcoming 64-page All-Flash Quarterly #1 – to be seen in a succeeding Archive collection), Joan is kidnapped by Mexican mobsters aware of her connection to The Flash. Rushing to her rescue, Garrick battles a small army, not only saving his girlfriend but even reforming bandit chief José Salvez.

This initial high-energy compilation ends with another light-hearted sporting escapade as the speedster intervenes in a gambling plot, saving a moribund baseball team from sabotage even as Jay Garrick – officially “almost as fast as the Flash” – becomes the Redskins’ (a nickname now thankfully consigned to history’s dustbin of insensitivity) star player to save them from lousy performances…

With covers by Sheldon Moldoff, Dennis Neville, George Storm, Jon L. Blummer, Hibbard and Sharp, this book is a sheer delight for lovers of the early Fights ‘n’ Tights genre: exuberant, exciting and funny, although certainly not to every modern fan’s taste. Of course, with such straightforward thrills on show any reader with an open mind could find his opinion changed in a flash.
© 1940, 1941, 1999 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

All Star Comics: Only Legends Live Forever


By Gerry Conway, Paul Levitz, Ric Estrada, Wally Wood, Keith Giffen, Joe Staton & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0071-7 (HB)

In the torrid and turbulent 1970s many of the comics industry’s oldest publishing ideas were finally laid to rest. The belief that characters could be “over-exposed” was one of the most pernicious and long-lasting (although it never hurt Superman, Batman or the original Captain Marvel), garnered from years of experience in an industry which lived or died on that fractional portion of pennies derived each month from the pocket-money and allowances of children which wasn’t spent on candy, toys or movies.

By the end of the 1960s, comic book costs and retail prices were inexorably rising and a proportion of titles – especially the newly revived horror stories – were consciously being produced for older readerships. Nearly a decade of organised fan publications and letter writing crusades had finally convinced publishing bean-counters what editors already knew: grown-ups avidly read comics too. Moreover, they would happily spend more than kids and, most importantly, wanted more, more, more of what they particularly loved.

Explicitly: If one appearance per month was popular, extras, specials and second series would be more so. By the time Marvel Wunderkind Gerry Conway was preparing to leave The House of Ideas, DC was willing and ready to expand its variegated line-up with some oft-requested fan-favourite characters…

Paramount among these was the Justice Society of America, the first comic book super-team and a perennial gem whose annual guest-appearances in the Justice League of America had become an inescapable and beloved summer tradition.

Thus in 1976 Writer/Editor Conway marked his second DC tenure (he had first broken in to the game writing horror shorts for Joe Orlando) by reviving All Star Comics with number #58. In 1951, as the first Heroic Age ended, the original title had transformed overnight into All Star Western with that numbering running for a further decade as the home of such cowboy crusaders as Strong Bow, Trigger Twins, Johnny Thunder and Super-Chief.

If you’re interested, among the other revivals/introductions in “Conway’s Corner” were Plastic Man, Blackhawk, Secret Society of Super-Villains, Freedom Fighters, Kobra, Blitzkrieg – and many others…

Set on the parallel world of Earth-2, and in keeping with the editorial sense of ensuring that the series be relevant to young readers too, Conway reintroduced the veteran team, leavened with a smattering of teen heroes, combined into a contentious, generation-gap fuelled “Super Squad”.

These youngsters included Robin (already a JSA-er since the mid-1960s and Justice League of America #55), Sylvester Pemberton, AKA The Star-Spangled Kid (in actuality a boy-hero from the 1940s lost in time for decades) and a busty young thing who quickly became the feisty favourite of a generation of growing boys: Kara Zor-L; soon to become infamous as the “take-charge” dynamo Power Girl.

This titanic hardback and digital collection volume gathers the 4-year run of the JSA from the late 1970s into a sublime showcase of so-different, ever-changing times via All-Star Comics #58-74, plus the series’ continuation and conclusion from epic anthology title Adventure Comics #461-466, and includes seminal DC Special #29 which, after almost four decades, finally provided the team with an origin…

Without preamble, the action begins with ‘Prologue’ – a 3-page introduction, recap and summation of the Society’s history and the celestial mechanics of Alternate Earths, by Paul Levitz, Joe Staton & Bob Layton (first seen in Adventure #461, January/February 1979). This outlines the history and mechanics of DC’s parallel continuities, after which the first half of the 2-part debut tale from All-Star Comics #58 (January/February 1976 by Conway, Ric Estrada and Wally Wood) finds newly-inducted Pemberton chafing at his time-lost plight and revelling in his new powers after being given a cosmic-power device by retired veteran Starman. When a crisis propels him and elder heroes Flash, Dr. Mid-Nite, Wildcat, Green Lantern, Hawkman and Dr. Fate into a three-pronged calamity devastating Seattle, Cape Town and Peking (which you youngsters now known as Beijing) with man-made natural disasters, the elder statesmen split up but are overwhelmed, giving the new kids a chance to shine in ‘All Star Super-Squad’.

With the abrasive, impatient Power Girl in the vanguard the entire team is soon on the trail of old foe Degaton and his mind-bending ally in the concluding #59’s ‘Brainwave Blows Up!’

Keith Giffen replaced Estrada in #60 for the introduction of a psychotic super-arsonist who attacks the squad just as the age-divide starts to grate and Power Girl begins to tick off (or “re-educate”) the stuffy, paternalistic JSA-ers in ‘Vulcan: Son of Fire!’.

Closing instalment ‘Hellfire and Holocaust’ sees the flaming fury mortally wound Fate before his own defeat, just as a new mystic menace is stirring…

Conway’s last issue as scripter was #62. ‘When Fall the Mighty’ has antediluvian sorcerer Zanadu attack, whilst the criminal Injustice Gang opens their latest vengeful assault using mind-control to turn friend against friend…

The cast expands with the return of Hourman and Power Girl’s Kryptonian mentor, but even they prove insufficient to prevent ‘The Death of Doctor Fate’ (written by Paul Levitz) and, attacked on all sides, the team splinters. Wildcat, Hawkman and the Kryptonian Cousins tackle the assembled super-villains as Flash and Green Lantern search Egypt for a cure to Fate’s condition, and Hourman, Mid-Nite and Star-Spangled Kid desperately attempt to keep their fallen comrade alive.

They fail and Zanadu renews his assault, almost adding the moribund Fate’s death-watch defenders to his tally until the archaic alien’s very presence calls Kent Nelson back from beyond the grave…

With that crisis averted, Superman makes ready to leave but is embroiled in a last-minute, manic time-travel assassination plot (Levitz script, and fully illustrated by the inimitable Wally Wood) which drags the team and guest-star Shining Knight from an embattled Camelot in ‘Yesterday Begins Today!’ to the far-flung future and ‘The Master Plan of Vandal Savage’: a breathtaking spectacle of drama and excitement that signalled Woody’s departure from the series.

Joe Staton & Bob Layton took the unenviable task of filling his artistic shoes, beginning with #66 as ‘Injustice Strikes Twice!’ as the reunited team – sans Superman – fall prey to an ambush from their arch-enemies, whilst emotion-warping Psycho-Pirate starts to twist Green Lantern into an out-of-control menace determined to crush Corporate America beneath his emerald heel. This subsequently leads to the return of Earth-2’s Bruce Wayne, who had retired his masked persona to become Gotham’s Police Commissioner.

In ‘Attack of the Underlord!’ (All-Star Comics #67, July/August 1977), the Injustice Society’s monstrous allies are revealed as a subterranean race of conquerors who nearly end the team forever. Meanwhile, Wayne’s plans near fruition. He wants to shut down the JSA before their increasingly destructive exploits demolish his beloved city…

The contemporary adventures pause here as the aforementioned case from DC Special #29 (September 1977) discloses ‘The Untold Origin of the Justice Society’

In an extra-length epic set in 1940, Levitz, Staton & Layton, reveal previously “classified” events which saw Adolf Hitleracquire the mystical Spear of Destiny and immediately summon mythical Teutonic Valkyries to aid in the invasion of Britain.

Alerted to the threat, American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, hampered by his country’s neutrality, asks a select band of masked mystery-men to lend their aid as non-political, private citizens. In a cataclysmic escalation, the struggle ranges from the heart of Europe throughout the British Isles and even to the Oval office of the White House before ten bold costumed heroes finally – if only temporarily – stymy the Nazis’ plans…

Back in All Star #68 (October 1977) the curvy Kryptonian was clearly becoming the star of the show. ‘Divided We Stand!’ (Levitz, Staton & Layton) concludes the Psycho-Pirate’s scheme to discredit and destroy the JSA, and sets the scene for her first solo outing in Showcase #97-99 (not included here).

Meanwhile GL resumes his maniacal rampage through Gotham and Police Commissioner Bruce Wayne takes extreme measures to bring the seemingly out-of-control JSA to book.

In #69’s ‘United We Fall!’, he brings in his own team of retired JSA stars to arrest the “rogue” squad, resulting in a classic fanboy dream duel as Dr. Fate, Wildcat, Hawkman, Flash, GL and Star Spangled Kid battled the original Batman, Robin, Hourman, Starman, Dr. Mid-Nite and Wonder Woman. It’s a colourful catastrophe in waiting until PG and Superman intervene to reveal the true cause of all the unleashed madness…

…And in the background, a new character was about to make a landmark debut…

With order (temporarily) restored ‘A Parting of the Ways!’ spotlights Wildcat and Star-Spangled Kid as the off-duty heroes stumble upon high-tech super-thieves Strike Force. The robbers initially prove too much for the pair – and even new star The Huntress – but with a pair of startling revelations in ‘The Deadliest Game in Town!’ the trio finally triumph.

In the aftermath, the Kid resigns and the daughter of Batman and Catwoman replace him.

All-Star Comics #72 reintroduces a brace of classic Golden Age villainesses in ‘A Thorn by Any Other Name’ – wherein the psychopathic floral fury returns to poison Wildcat, leaving Helena Wayne to battle the original 1950’s Huntress for an antidote and the rights to the name…

Concluding chapter ‘Be it Ever So Deadly’ (with Joe Giella taking over the inker’s role) sees the entire team in action as Huntress battled Huntress whilst Thorn and The Sportsmaster do their deadly best to destroy the heroes and their loved ones. Simultaneously in Egypt, Hawkman and Dr. Fate stumble upon a deadly ancient menace to all of reality…

The late 1970s was a perilous period for comics, with exponentially rising costs inevitably resulting in drastically dwindling sales. Many titles were abruptly cancelled in a “DC Implosion” and All-Star Comics was one of the casualties. Issue #74 was the last, pitting the reunited team against a mystic Armageddon perpetrated by nigh-omnipotent Master Summoner who orchestrates a ‘World on the Edge of Ending’ before the Justice Society triumphantly drag victory from the jaws of defeat…

Although the book was gone, the series continued in the massive 68-page anthology title Adventure Comics, beginning in #461 (January/February 1979) with the first half of a blockbuster tale originally intended for the anniversary 75th issue. Drawn and inked by Staton, ‘Only Legends Live Forever’ details the last case of the Batman as the Dark Knight comes out of retirement to battle a seeming nonentity who has mysteriously acquired god-like power.

Adventure #462 delivered the shocking, heartbreaking conclusion in ‘The Legend Lives Again!’ whilst #462’s ‘The Night of the Soul Thief!’ sees Huntress, Robin and the assembled JSA deliver righteous justice to the mysterious mastermind who actually orchestrated the death of the World’s Greatest Detective….

In #464, an intriguing insight into aging warrior Wildcat reveals ‘To Everything There is a Season…’ as he embraces his own mortality and begins a new career as a teacher of heroes, whilst ‘Countdown to Disaster!’ (inked by Dave Hunt) finds Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Power Girl, Huntress and Dr. Fate hunting a doomsday device lost in the teeming masses of Gotham. It would be the last modern outing of the team for years…

But not the last in this volume: that honour falls to another Levitz & Staton landmark: a little history lesson wherein they expose the reason why the team vanished at the beginning of the 1950s.

From Adventure #466, ‘The Defeat of the Justice Society!’ shows how the American Government had cravenly betrayed their greatest champions during the McCarthy witch-hunts: provoking the mystery-men into voluntarily withdrawing from public, heroic life for over a decade – that is until the costumed stalwarts of Earth-1 started the whole Fights ‘n’ Tights scene all over again…

Upping the gaudy glory quotient, a team pin-up by Staton & Dick Giordano and two earlier collection covers from Brian Bolland cap off the costumed dramas. Although perhaps a tad dated now, these exuberant, rapid-paced and imaginative yarns perfectly blend the naive charm of Golden Age derring-do with cynically hopeful modern sensibilities. Here you will be reassured that no matter what, in the end our heroes will always find a way to save the day.

These classic tales from simpler times are a glorious example of traditional superhero storytelling at its finest: fun, furious and ferociously engaging, exciting written and beguilingly illustrated. No Fights ‘n’ Tights fan should miss these marvellous sagas.
© 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 2019 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Golden Age Green Lantern Archives volume 1


By Bill Finger, Martin Nodell, E.E. Hibbard, Irwin Hasen & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-507-4

Thanks to comics genius and editorial wunderkind Sheldon Mayer, the innovative fledgling company All-American Comics – who co-published in association with and would eventually be absorbed by DC – published the first comic book super-speedster in Flash Comics. They followed up a few months later with another evergreen and immortal all-star.

The Green Lantern debuted in issue #16 of the company’s flagship title just as superheroes began to truly dominate the market, supplanting newspaper strip reprints and stock genre characters in the still primarily anthologised comic books. The Emerald Gladiator would be swiftly joined in All-American Comics by The Atom, Red Tornado, Sargon the Sorcerer and Doctor Mid-Nite until eventually only gag strips such Mutt and Jeff and exceptional topical tough-guy military strips Hop Harrigan (Ace of the Airwaves) and Red, White and Blue remained to represent mere mortal heroes.

At least, until tastes shifted again after the war and costumed crusaders faded away, to be replaced by cowboys, cops and private eyes…

Devised by up-and-coming cartoonist Martin Nodell (and fleshed out by Bill Finger in the same generally unsung way he had contributed to the success of Batman), Green Lantern soon became AA’s second smash sensation.

The arcane avenger gained his own solo-starring title little more than a year after his premiere and appeared in other anthologies such as Comics Cavalcade and All Star Comics for just over a decade before, like most first-generation superheroes, he faded away in the early1950s. However, he first suffered the uniquely humiliating fate of being edged out of his own strip and comic book by his pet, Streak the Wonder Dog

However, that’s the stuff of other reviews. This spectacular quirkily beguiling deluxe Archive edition (collecting the Sentinel of Justice’s appearances from All-American Comics #16-30 – covering July 1940 to September 1941 as well as Green Lantern #1 (Fall 1941)) opens with a rousing reminiscence from Nodell in a Foreword which discusses the origins of the character before the parade of raw, graphic enchantment starts with the incredible history of The Green Flame of Life

Ambitious young engineer Alan Scott only survives the sabotage and destruction of a passenger-packed train due to the intervention of a battered old railway lantern. Bathed in its eerie emerald light he is regaled by a mysterious green voice with the legend of how a meteor once fell in ancient China and spoke to the people, predicting Death, Life and Power.

The star-stone’s viridian glow brought doom to the savant who reshaped it into a lamp, sanity to a madman centuries later and now promised incredible might to bring justice to the innocent…

Instructing Scott to fashion a ring from its metal and draw a charge of power from the lantern every 24 hours, the ancient artefact urges the engineer to use his formidable willpower to end all evil: a mission Scott eagerly takes up by promptly crushing corrupt industrialist Dekker – who had callously caused wholesale death just to secure a lucrative rail contract.

The ring made Scott immune to all minerals and metals, enabled him to fly and pass through walls, but as he battled Dekker’s thugs the grim avenger painfully discovers that living – perhaps organic – materials such as wood or rubber can penetrate his jade defences and cause him mortal harm…

The saboteurs duly punished, Scott resolves to carry on the fight and devises a “bizarre costume” to disguise his identity and strike fear and awe into wrongdoers…

Most of the stories at this time were untitled, and All-American Comics #17 (August 1940) found Scott in Metropolis (long before it became the fictional home of Superman) where his new employer is squeezed out of a building contract by a crooked City Commissioner in bed with racketeers. With lives at risk from shoddy construction, the Green Lantern moves to stop the gangsters. He nearly loses his life to overconfidence before finally triumphing, after which #18 finds Scott visiting the 1940 New York World’s Fair.

This yarn (which I suspect was devised for DC’s legendary comicbook premium New York World’s Fair Comics, but shelved at the last moment) introduces feisty romantic interest Irene Miller as she attempts to shoot the gangster who framed her brother. Naturally, gallant he-man Scott had to get involved, promptly discovering untouchable gang-boss Murdock owns his own Judge, by the simple expedient of holding the lawman’s daughter captive…

However, once Alan applies his keen wits and ruthless mystic might to the problem Murdock’s power – and life – are forfeit, after which, in All-American Comics #19, Scott saves a man from an attempted hit-and-run and finds himself ferreting out a deadly ring of insurance scammers collecting big pay-outs through inflicting “accidents” upon unsuspecting citizens.

Issue #20 opened with a quick recap of GL’s origin before instituting a major change in the young engineer’s life. Following the gunning down of a roving radio announcer and assassination of the reporter’s wife, our hero investigates APEX Broadcasting System in Capitol City… and again meets Irene Miller.

She works at APEX, and with Alan’s help uncovers a scheme whereby broadcasts are used to transmit coded instructions to merciless smugglers. Once the Ring-wielder mops up the cunning gang and their inside man, engineer Scott takes a job at the company and begins a hapless romantic pursuit of capable, valiant Irene.

Thanks to scripter Finger, Green Lantern was initially a grim, mysterious and spookily implacable figure of vengeance weeding out criminals and gangsters but, just as with early Batman sagas, there was always a strong undercurrent of social issues, ballsy sentimentality and human drama.

All-American #21 has the hero expose a cruel con wherein a crooked lawyer presses young criminal Cub Brenner into posing as the long-lost son of a wealthy couple to steal their fortune. Of course, the kid has a change of heart and everything ends happily, but not before stupendous skulduggery and atrocious violence ensue…

In #22, when prize-fighter Kid McKay refuses to throw a bout, mobsters abduct his wife and even temporarily overcome the fighting-mad Emerald Guardian. Moreover, when one brutal thug puts on the magic ring, he swiftly suffers a ghastly punishment which allows GL to emerge victorious…

Slick veteran Everett E. Hibbard provided the art for #23, and his famed light touch frames GL’s development into a less fearsome and more public hero. As Irene continues to rebuff Alan’s advances – in vain hopes of landing his magnificent mystery man alter ego – the engineer accompanies her to interview movie star Delia Day and stumbles into a cruel blackmail racket.

Despite their best efforts the net result is heartbreak, tragedy and many deaths. Issue #24 then sees the Man of Light going undercover to expose philanthropist tycoon R.J. Karns, who maintains his vast fortune by selling unemployed Americans into slavery on a tropical Devil’s Island, whilst #25 finds Irene uncovering sabotage at a steel mill.

With GL’s unsuspected help she then exposes purported enemy mastermind The Leader as no more than an unscrupulous American insider trader trying to force prices down for a simple Capitalist coup…

Celebrated strip cartoonist Irwin Hasen began his long association with Green Lantern in #26 when the hero aids swindled citizens whose lending agreements with a loan shark were being imperceptibly altered by a forger to keep them paying in perpetuity, after which the artist illustrated the debut appearance of overnight sensation Doiby Dickles in All-American #27 (June 1941).

The rotund, middle-aged Brooklyn-born cab driver was simply intended as light foil and occasional sidekick for the poker-faced Emerald Avenger but rapidly grew to be one of the most popular and beloved comedy stooges of the era; soon sharing covers and even by-lines with the star.

In this initial dramatic outing, he bravely defends fare Irene (sorry: irresistible – awful, but irresistible) from assailants as she carries plans for a new radio receiver device. For his noble efforts, Doiby is sought out and thanked by Green Lantern. After the verdant crusader investigates further, he discovers enemy agents at the root of the problem, but when Irene is again targeted, the Emerald Avenger was seemingly killed…

This time, to save Miss Miller, Doiby disguises himself as “de Lantrin” and confronts the killers alone before the real deal turns up to end things. As a reward, the Brooklyn bravo is offered an unofficial partnership…

In #28 the convenient death of millionaire Cyrus Brand and a suspicious bequest to a wastrel nephew lead Irene, Doiby and Alan to a sinister gangster dubbed The Spider who manufactures deaths by natural causes, after which #29 finds GL and the corpulent cabbie hunting mobster Mitch Hogan, who forces pharmacies to buy his counterfeit drugs and products. The brute utilises strong-arm tactics to ensure even the courts carry out his wishes – at least until the Lantern and his wrench-wielding buddy give him a dose of his own medicine…

The last All-American yarn here is from issue #30 (cover-dated September 1941) and again sees Irene sticking her nose into other peoples’ business. This time she exposes a brace of crooked bail bondsmen exploiting former criminals trying to go straight, before being again kidnapped…

This raw and vital high-energy compilation ends with the stirring contents of Green Lantern #1 from Fall 1941, scripted by Finger and exclusively illustrated by Nodell, who had by this time dropped his potentially face-saving pseudonym Mart “Dellon”.

The magic began with a 2-page origin recap in ‘Green Lantern – His Personal History’, after which ‘The Masquerading Mare!’ sees GL and Doiby smash the schemes of racketeer Scar Jorgis who goes to quite extraordinary lengths to obtain a racehorse inherited by Irene.

Following an article by Dr. William Moulton Marston (an eminent psychologist familiar to us today as the creator of Wonder Woman) in which he discusses the topic of ‘Will Power’, the comic thrills resume when a city official is accused of mishandling funds allocated to buy pneumonia serum in ‘Disease!!’

Although Green Lantern and Doiby spearhead a campaign to raise money to prevent an epidemic, events take a dark turn when the untouchable, unimpeachable Boss Filch experiences personal tragedy and exposes his grafting silent partners high in the city’s governing hierarchy…

Blistering spectacle is the star of ‘Arson in the Slums’, as Alan and Irene are entangled in a crusading publisher’s strident campaign to renovate a ghetto. Of course, the philanthropic Barton and his real estate pal Murker have only altruistic reasons for their drive to re-house the city’s poorest citizens. Sure, they do…

Doiby is absent from that high octane thriller but guest-stars with the Emerald Ace in prose tale ‘Hop Harrigan in “Trailers of Treachery”’ – by an unknown scripter and probably illustrated by Sheldon Mayer – a ripping yarn starring AA’s aviation ace (and star of his own radio show) after which ‘Green Lantern’ and Doiby travel South of the Border to scenic Landavo to investigate tampering with APEX’s short-wave station and end up in a civil war.

They soon discover the entire affair has been fomented by foreign agents intent on destroying democracy on the continent…

With the threat of involvement in the “European War” a constant subject of American headlines, this sort of spy story was gradually superseding general gangster yarns, and as Green Lantern displayed his full bombastic might against tanks, fighter planes and invading armies, nobody realised that within mere months America and the entire comic book industry were to be refitted and reconfigured beyond all recognition. Soon mystery men would become patriotic morale boosters parading and sermonising ad infinitum in every corner of the industry’s output as the real world brutally intruded on the hearts and minds of the nation…

Including a breathtaking selection of stunning and powerfully evocative covers by Sheldon Moldoff, Hasen & Howard Purcell, this magnificent book is a sheer delight for lovers of the early Fights ‘n’ Tights genre: gripping, imaginative and exuberantly exciting – but yet again remains unavailable in digital formats. One day, though…
© 1940, 1941, 1999 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Golden Age Hawkman Archives volume 1


By Gardner F. Fox, Dennis Neville, Sheldon Moldoff & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0418-1 (HB)

Although one of DC’s most long-lived and certainly their most visually iconic character, the various iterations of Hawkman have always struggled to find enough of an audience to sustain a solo title. From his beginnings as one of the assorted B-features in Flash Comics (the others being Cliff Cornwall, The King, The Whip and Johnny Thunder), all adding lustre to the soaraway success of the eponymous speedster at the helm of the comic book, Winged Wonder Carter Hall has struggled through assorted engaging, exciting but always short-lived reconfigurations.

Over decades from ancient hero to re-imagined alien space-cop and post-Crisis on Infinite Earths freedom fighter, or the seemingly desperate but highly readable bundling together of all previous iterations into the reincarnating immortal berserker-warrior of today, the Pinioned Paladin has performed exemplary service without ever really making it to the big time.

Where’s a big-time movie producer/fan when you need one?

Created by Gardner Fox & Dennis Neville, Hawkman premiered in Flash Comics #1 (cover-dated January 1940) and stayed there, growing in quality and prestige until the title died, with the most celebrated artists to have drawn the Feathered Fury being Sheldon Moldoff and Joe Kubert, whilst a young Robert Kanigher was justly proud of his later run as writer.

Together with his partner Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman, the gladiatorial mystery-man countered fantastic arcane threats and battled modern crime and tyranny with weapons of the past for over a decade before vanishing with the bulk of costumed heroes as the 1950s dawned.

His last appearance was in All Star Comics #57 (1951) as leader of the Justice Society of America, after which the husband-and-wife hellions were revived and re-imagined nine years later as Katar Hol and Shayera Thal of planet Thanagar.

That was thanks to Julie Schwartz’s crack creative team Gardner Fox & Joe Kubert – a space-age interpretation which even survived 1985’s winnowing Crisis on Infinite Earths. Their long career, numerous revamps and perpetual retcons ended during the 1994 Zero Hour crisis, but they’ve reincarnated and returned a couple of times since then too…

However, despite being amongst DC’s most celebrated and picturesque strips over the years, Hawkman and Hawkwoman always struggled to sustain sufficient audience to save their numerous solo titles.

This spectacular deluxe hardcover re-presentation of the formative years (collecting appearances from Flash Comics #1-22 spanning January 1940 to October 1941) begins with a fond reminiscence by artist Moldoff in the ‘Foreword’ before the magic begins as it should with ‘The Origin of Hawkman’ by Fox & Neville.

In his first epochal episode, dashing Carter Hall is a playboy scientific tinkerer and part-time archaeologist with a penchant for collecting old, rare weapons, whose dormant memory is unlocked by an ancient crystal dagger purchased for his collection. Through dreams the dilettante realises that once he had been Prince Khufu of ancient Egypt, who was murdered with his lover Shiera by Anubis’ High Priest Hath-Set. Moreover, with his newly returned memories, Hall realises that the eternal struggle is primed to play out once more…

As if pre-destined, he bumps into the equally reincarnated and remembering Shiera Sanders just a terrifying electrical menace turns New York City’s Subway into a killing field. The new couple surmise the deadly Doctor Hastor is their ancient nemesis reborn and, fashioning an outlandish uniform and anti-gravity harness of mystic Egyptian “Ninth Metal”, Hall hunts the deranged electrical scientist to his lair. He’s just in time to save mesmerised Shiera from a second death-by-sacrifice and mercilessly ends the cycle – at least for now…

Flash #2’s, ‘The Globe Conquerors’ concentrated on fantastic science as Hall and Shiera tackle a modern Alexander the Great who builds a gravity-altering machine in his ruthless quest to conquer the world, whilst ‘The Secret of Dick Blendon’ in #3 sees “The Hawk-Man” expose a wicked scheme by insidious slavers who turn brilliant men into zombies for profit, to gather riches and to find the secret of eternal life.

Moldoff debuted as artist in Flash Comics #4, illustrating a splendidly barbarous thriller wherein the Winged Warrior clashes with ‘The Thought Terror’; a sinister mesmerist enslaving the city’s wealthy citizens, before ‘The Kidnapping of Ione Craig’ in #5 pits the crime-fighting phenomenon against “Asiatic” cultists led by legendary assassin Hassan Ibn Saddah. The killers are determined to stop a pretty missionary and secret agent from investigating distant Araby

Moldoff has received overly unfair criticism over the years for his frequent, copious but stylishly artistic swipes from newspaper strips by master craftsmen Alex Raymond and Hal Foster in his work of this period, but one look at the stunning results here as the feature took a quantum leap in visual quality should silence those quibblers for good…

Maintaining the use of exotic locales, the story extended in issue #6 as Hall and Ione struggle to cross burning Saharan sands to the African coast before defeating Arab slavers and their deadly ruler ‘Sheba, Queen of the Desert’

Issue #7 further explored the mystical and supernatural underpinnings of the strip which easily lent themselves to spooky tales of quasi-horror and barbaric intensity. “The Eerie Unknown” and deluded dabblers in darkness were much-used elements in Hawkman sagas, as seen in ‘Czar, the Unkillable Man’ wherein the Avian Avenger, back in the USA and reunited with Shiera, clashes with a merciless golem animated by a crazed sculptor aiming to get rich at any cost.

Issue #8 featured another deranged technologist as ‘The Sunspot Wizard’; Professor Kitzoff alters the pattern and frequency of the solar blemishes to foment riot, madness and chaos on Earth… until the Winged Wonder intervened, after which in ‘The Creatures from the Canyon’ Hawkman foils aquatic invaders living in the deeps 5,000 feet below Manhattan Island who have decided to expand their ancient empire upwards…

Bidding for an old firearm at an auction in #10, Hall is inexorably drawn into a murder-mystery and the hunt for a lost Colorado goldmine in ‘Adventures of the Spanish Blunderers’, before ‘Trouble in Suburbia’ manifests after a hit-and-run accident draws plucky Shiera into a corrupt and convoluted property-scam. Boyfriend Carter Hall is quite prepared to stand back and let her deal with the villains – even if Hawkman does exert a little surreptitious brawn to close the case…

Another murderous scam involves an old High Society chum as ‘The Heart Patient’ reveals how a pretty gold-digger and rogue doctor serially poison healthy young men and fleece them for a cure, whilst in #13 ‘Satana, the Tiger Girl’ preys on admirers for far more sinister reasons: pitting Hawkman and Shiera against scientifically hybridised killer-cats…

 ‘The Awesome Alligator’ then sees an elder god return to Earth to inspire and equip a madman in a plot to conquer America, with ancient secrets and futuristic super-weapons. None of those incredible threats could withstand cold fury and a well-wielded mace, however…

At this time the Pinioned Paladin usually dispatched foes of humanity with icy aplomb and single-minded ruthlessness, and such supernatural thrillers as #15’s ‘The Hand’ gave Fox & Moldoff ample scope to display the reincarnated warrior’s savage efficiency when he tracks down a sentient severed fist which steals and slaughters at its inventive master’s command, whilst ‘The Graydon Expedition’ in #16 reinforces the hero’s crusading credentials after Shiera goes missing in Mongolia, and the Winged Wonder undertakes a one-man invasion of a fabulous lost kingdom to save her.

In Flash Comics #17, ‘Murder at the Opera’ puts the bold birdman on the trail of an arcane Golden Mummy Sect with a perilously prosaic origin and agenda, whilst #18 finds him investigating skulduggery in the Yukon as Shiera rushes north to offer aid to starving miners during ‘The Gold Rush of ‘41’.

Evidently capable of triumphing in any environment or milieu, Hawkman next thwarted deranged physicist Pratt Palmerin #19, when that arrogant savant attempts to become the overlord of crime using his deadly ‘Cold Light’. In #20, ‘The Mad Bomber’ finds the Avian Ace allied with a racketeer to stop mad scientist Sathan from destroying their city with remote-controlled aerial torpedoes, after which Hawkman is forced to end the tragically lethal rampage of an alien foundling raised by a callous rival for Shiera’s affections in ‘Menace from Space’

This first high-flying archive compilation concludes with October 1941’s Flash Comics #22 and ‘The Adventure of the Killer Gang’ as headstrong Shiera witnesses a bloody hijacking and determines to make the bandits pay. Although she again helps Hawkman deal with the murderous vermin as a civilian here, big changes were in store for the feisty, capable heroine…

Already in All Star Comics #5 (July 1941) she had first worn wings and a costume of her own, and in Flash Comics #24 (December 1941) she would at last become an equal partner in peril and fully-fledged heroine: Hawkgirl… but sadly that’s a tale for another volume…

Exotic, engaging and fantastically inviting, these Golden Age adventures are a true high-point of the era and still offer astonishing thrills and chills. When all’s said and done it’s all about the heady rush of raw adventure, but there’s also a fabulous frisson of nostalgia here to wallow in: seeking to recapture that magical full-sensorium burst of smell and feel and imagination-overload that finds kids at a perfect moment and provokes something visual and conceptual that almost literally blows the mind…

We re-read stories hoping to rekindle that instantly addictive buzz and constantly seek out new comics desperately hoping to recapture that pure, halcyon burst, and these lost mini-epics are phenomenally imbued with everything fans need to make that breathtaking moment happen. Hopefully DC will realise that soon and revive these compelling compulsive collections: either in solid form or at least in some digital editions…
© 1940, 1941, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Golden Age Doctor Fate Archives volume 1


By Gardner F. Fox, Hal Sherman, Stan Aschmeier & Jon Chester Kozlak (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1308-0 (HB)

There are many comics anniversaries this year. Some of the most significant will be rightly celebrated, but a few are going to be unjustly ignored. As a feverish fanboy wedged firmly in the past, I’m again abusing my privileges here to carp about another brilliant vintage book, criminally out of print and not slated for revival either physically or in digital formats…

One of the most interesting aspects of DC’s Golden Age superhero pantheon is just how much more they gripped the attention of writers and readers from succeeding generations, even if they didn’t set the world alight during their original “Glory Days”.

Numerous relatively short-lived or genuinely second-string characters with a remarkably short shelf life through the formative years of the industry have, since the Silver Age which began in 1956, seldom been far from our attention and been constantly revived, rebooted and resurrected.

One of the most revered, revisited and frequently revived is Doctor Fate, who first appeared in 1940, courtesy of writer Gardner F. Fox and the uniquely stylistic Howard Sherman. Although starting strong, he was another incredibly powerful man of mystery who failed to capture the imaginations of enough readers to build on the chimeric tone of the times. He even underwent a radical revision midway through his initial run and lost his strip even before WWII ended.

Since his Silver Age revival, however, Fate has become a popular cornerstone of more than one DC Universe and he’s still going strong, albeit in some daringly radical forms…

Following the historically informative and laudatory Foreword by big-time devotee fan and Golden Age Keeper of the Flame Roy Thomas, this monumental 400-page full-colour deluxe hardback (representing the entirety of Doctor Fate’s run from More Fun Comics #55-98 from  May 1940 to July/August 1944) introduces the potentate of peril in a 6-page parable wherein he combats ‘The Menace of Wotan’.

During those simpler times origins and motivations were far less important than plot and action, so this eerie yarn focuses on a blue-skinned Mephistopheles’ scheme to assassinate comely lady of leisure Inza and how her enigmatic, golden-helmed protector thwarts the plot. Our hero deals harshly with the nefarious azure mage, barely mentioning in passing that Fate possesses all the lost knowledge and lore of ancient civilisations.

That’s probably the biggest difference between the original and today’s Fate: back then, he was no sorcerer but an adept of forgotten science (a distinction cribbed from many Lovecraftian horror tales of the previous two decades of pulp fiction): a hair-splitting difference all but lost on the youthful readers.

In #56 – which boasted the first of 11 cover spots for the Wielder of Old Wisdoms –‘The Search for Wotan’ sees Fate carry Inza up the Stairs of Judgement to Heaven where they learn their foe is not dead but actually preparing to blow up the Earth. Foiling the plan but unable to permanently despatch the big blue meanie, Fate is forced to bury his enemy alive at the centre of the world…

‘The Fire Murders’ in #57, sees certified doom-magnet Inza targeted by mystic arsonist Mango the Mighty before her guardian Fate swiftly ends the campaign of terror, whilst in the next issue a modern mage recovers ‘The Book of Thoth’from its watery tomb and unleashes a wave of appalling, uncanny phenomena until the Blue-and-Gold Gladiator steps in.

The self-appointed bulwark against wicked mysticism levitates out of his comfort zone in More Fun #59 to repel an invasion by ‘The People from Outer Space’ but is firmly back in occult territory for #60 when he destroys ‘The Little Men’ employed by a mythic triumvirate of colossal Norns to crush humanity.

Behind #61’s striking Sherman cover, ‘Attack of the Nebula’ pits the Puissant Paladin against a cosmic cloud and wandering planetoid summoned by an Earthly madman to devastate the world, then sees the doctor derail a deranged technologist’s robotic coup in #62’s ‘Menace of the Metal Men’ and save Inza from petrification by ‘The Sorcerer’ in More Fun #63.

Like many of Fox’s very best heroic series, Doctor Fate was actually a romantic partnership, with Inza (after a number of surnames she eventually settled on Cramer) acting as assistant, foil, and so very often, target of many macabre menaces. In #64 she and Fate – who still had no civilian identity – share a pleasure cruise to the Caribbean where a slumbering Mayan God of Evil wants to utilise her unique psychic talents in ‘The Mystery of Mayoor’.

She got a brief rest in #65 as Fate soloed in a bombastic battle to repel an invasion of America by ‘The Fish-Men of Nyarl-Amen’ but plays a starring role in the next episode as Fate exposes a sadistic crook trying to drive his wealthy cousin to suicide by convincing her that she is ‘The Leopard Girl’

A year after his debut, More Fun Comics #67 (May 1941) at last revealed ‘The Origin of Doctor Fate’: revealing how the boy Kent Nelson had accompanied his father Sven on an archaeological dig to Ur in 1920.

Broaching a pre-Chaldean pyramid, the lad awakened a dormant half-million-year-old alien from the planet Cilia, and accidentally triggered security systems which killed his own father. Out of gratitude and remorse, the being known as Nabu the Wise trained Kent to harness the hidden forces of the universe – levitation, telekinesis and the secrets of the atom – and – after two decades – sent him out into the world to battle those who used magic and science with evil intent.

That epic sequence only took up three pages, however, and the remainder of the instalment finds time and space for Fate and Inza to turn back a ghostly incursion and convince Lord of the Dead Black Negal to stay away from the lands of the living…

Fate graduated to 10-page tales and held the covers of More Fun #68-76: beginning a classic run of spectacular thrillers by firstly crushing a scientific slaughterer who had built an invisible killing field in ‘Murder in Baranga Marsh’, before gaining a deadly arch-enemy in #69 when deranged physicist Ian Karkull uses a ray to turn his gang into ‘The Shadow Killers’

In #70, the shadow master allied with Fate’s first foe as ‘Wotan and Karkull’ construct an arsenal of doomsday weapons in the arctic. They are still too weak to beat the Master of Cosmic Forces though, whereas rogue solar scientist Igorovichwould have successfully blackmailed the entire planet with ‘The Great Drought’ had Inza not dramatically intervened…

With involvement in WWII now clearly inevitable, covers had increasingly become more martial and patriotic in nature, and with More Fun #72 (October 1941) Fate underwent an unexpected and radical change in nature.

The full-face helmet was replaced with a gleaming metallic half hood and his powers diminished. Moreover, the hero was no longer a cold, emotionless force of nature, but a passionate, lusty, two-fisted swashbuckler throwing punches rather than pulses of eerie energy. His previous physical invulnerability was countered by revealing that his lungs were merely human and he could be drowned, poisoned or asphyxiated…

The quality and character of his opposition changed too. ‘The Forger’ pits him against a gang of con-men targeting Inza’s family and other farmers; altering intercepted bank documents to pull off a cruel swindle, whilst a far more rational and reasonable nemesis debuted in #73 when criminal mastermind ‘Mr. Who’ uses his body-morphing, forced-evolution Solution Z to perpetrate a series of sensational robberies.

Despite a rather brutal trouncing – and apparent death – the brute returned in #74 with ‘Mr. Who Lives Again’ seeing the sinister scientist employ his abilities to replace the City Mayor, whilst in #75 ‘The Battle Against Time’ finds Fate racing to locate the killer who framed Inza’s best friend for murder…

Underworld chess master Michael Krugor manipulates people like pawns but ‘The King of Crime’ is himself overmatched and outplayed when he tries to use Inza against Fate, after which #77 saw a welcome – if brief – return to the good old days as ‘Art for Crime’s Sake’ has the Man of Mystery braving a magic world of monsters within an ancient Chinese painting to rescue young lovers eldritchly exiled by a greedy art dealer…

Issue #78 features clever bandits who disguised themselves as statues of ‘The Wax Museum Killers’, whilst #79’s ‘The Deadly Designs of Mr. Who’ reveals how the metamorphic maniac attempts to impersonate and replace one of the richest men on Earth, before #80’s innovative felon ‘The Octopus’ turns a circus into his playground for High Society plunder.

In More Fun #81 cunning crook The Clock uses radio show ‘Hall of Lost Heirs’ to trawl for potential victims and easy pickings whilst the next issue saw Fate expose the schemes of stage magician/conman The Red Sage. He was offering Luck for Sale!’

‘The Two Fates!’ then sees fortune tellers using extortion and murder to bolster their prognostications only to be stopped by the real deal…

In #84, the energetic crimebuster braved ‘Crime’s Hobby House!’ to stop thieving special effects wizard Mordaunt Grimmusing rich men’s own pastimes to rob them, before big changes for Kent Nelson occurred in #85.

Here the society idler quickly qualifies as a surgeon and medical doctor, embarking on a new career of service to humanity. Additionally, his alter ego ditches the golden cape, to become an acrobatic and human – if still bulletproof – crimebuster, exposing a greedy plastic surgeon helping crooks escape justice as ‘The Man Who Changed Faces!’

The medical theme predominated in these later tales. ‘The Man Who Wanted No Medals’ was a brilliant surgeon who feared a crushing youthful indiscretion would be exposed and #87’s ‘The Mystery of Room 406’ dealt with a hospital cubicle where even the healthiest patients always died. In ‘The Victim of Doctor Fate!’, Nelson suffers crippling self-doubt when he fails to save a patient. Those only fade after the surgeon’s diligent enquiries reveal the murderous hands of Mad Dog McBain secretly behind the untimely demise…

Charlatan soothsaying scoundrel Krishna Das is exposed by Fate and Inza in #89’s ‘The Case of the Crystal Crimes’, after which ‘The Case of the Healthy Patient!’ pits them against a fraudulent doctor and incurable hypochondriac. Mr. Who then resurfaces, using his chemical conjurations to shrink our hero to doll size in #91’s ‘The Man Who Belittled Fate!’

The Thief of Time struck again – whilst still in jail – in More Fun #92 as ‘Fate Turns Back The Clock!’ before superb Hal Sherman ended his long association with the strip in ‘The Legend of Lucky Lane’, wherein an impossibly fortunate felon finally plays the odds once too often…

As the page-count dropped back to 6 pages, Stan Aschmeier illustrated the next two adventures, beginning with 94’s ‘The Destiny of Mr. Coffin!’ with Fate coming to the aid of a fatalistic old soul framed for being a fence whilst ‘Flame in the Night!’ sees a matchbox collector targeted by killers who think he knows too much…

With the end clearly in sight, Jon Chester Kozlak took over the art beginning with More Fun #96 and ‘Forgotten Magic!’, as Fate’s Chaldean sponsor is forced to remove the hero’s remaining superhuman abilities for a day – leaving Fate to save trapped miners and foil their swindling boss with nothing but his wits and courage.

The restored champion then exposes the spurious bad luck reputed to plague ‘Pharaoh’s Lamp!’ and ended/suspended his crime-crushing career in #98 by sorting out a case of mistaken identity when a young boy is confused with diminutive Stumpy Small AKA ‘The Bashful King of Crime!’

With the first age of superheroes coming to a close, new tastes were developing in the readership. Fate’s costumed co-stars Green Arrow, Aquaman and Johnny Quick – along with debuting concept Superboy – moved over to Adventure Comics, leaving More Fun as an anthology of cartoon comedy features.

Initially dark, broodingly exotic and often genuinely spooky, Doctor Fate smoothly switched to the bombastic, boisterous, flamboyant and vividly exuberant post war Fights ‘n’ Tights style but couldn’t escape evolving times and trends. Here and forever, however, both halves of his early career can be seen as a lost treasure trove of tense suspense, eerie enigmas, spectacular action and fabulous fun: one no lover of Costumed Dramas or sheer comics wonderment can afford to miss.
© 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Flash: 80 Years of the Fastest Man Alive – the Deluxe Edition

By Gardner F. Fox, Robert Kanigher, John Broome, Cary Bates, William Messner-Loebs, Mark Waid, Mark Millar & Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato, Joshua Williamson, Gail Simone, Harry Lampert, Joe Kubert, Carmine Infantino, Alex Saviuk, Greg LaRocque, Mike Wieringo, Paul Ryan, Scott Kolins, Neil Googe, Clayton Henry & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9813-5 (HB)

The Flash was the first specialist superhero in comics. He was the blessed by only one extra-normal power yet started a trend and inspired a wave of imitators.

Jay Garrick debuted as the very first Scarlet Speedster in Flash Comics #1 (January 1940) and  “The Fastest Man Alive” wowed readers for over a decade before changing tastes benched him in 1951. After a period of unremarkable he-men dominated comics pages for half a decade, the concept of speedsters, and indeed, superheroes in general were revived in 1956 by Julie Schwartz in Showcase #4 where and when police scientist Barry Allen became the second hero to run with the concept.

The Silver Age Flash, whose creation and subsequent stellar run ushered in a new and seemingly unstoppable era of costumed crusaders, died heroically during Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985-1986). He was promptly succeeded by his sidekick Kid Flash. Of course, Allen later returned from the dead, but doesn’t everyone, eventually?

There have been many super-speedsters in the DCU and most of them congregate in the conjoined metropolis of Keystone and Central City. As Kid Flash/Flash, Wally West – chronologically the third official incarnation – lived there with his true love Linda Park, his Aunt Iris (Barry Allen’s widow) and fellow fast-fighters such as Jay Garrick. Impulse (juvenile speedster Bart Allen from the future, who also became a/The Flash) and his mentor/keeper Max Mercury – the Zen Master of hyper-velocity – lived in Alabama, but often visited as they only were picoseconds away…

A true icon of the industry and art form, The Flash is synonymous with superb comics storytelling and this splendid collection – available as a bonanza hardback and in various digital formats – offers curated material from Flash Comics#1, 89, 96, Showcase #4, The Flash #106, 110, 123, 155, 275, 300, Flash #54, 91, 133, 182, The Flash #0, DC Comics Holiday Special 2017 and The Flash Giant #2, celebrating a concept as much as the heroes who serially embodied it. The stories span January 1940 to February 2019 and are augmented by a succession of essays and articles, beginning with an Introduction by Dan Didio, before sprinting head first into the first milestone.

Created and crafted by Gardner F. Fox & Harry Lampert, ‘The Origin of the Flash’ appeared in and headlined anthology Flash Comics #1, which also introduced Hawkman and Johnny Thunder amongst others. The fast-paced first feature reveals how over-achieving physics student Garrick is exposed to “hard water fumes”. After initially putting him in a coma, the accident gives him super-speed, reactions and endurance. The breezy tale speedily delivers an origin, a returning cast and a classic confrontation with sinister syndicate the Faultless Four and their diabolical leader Sieur Satan.

Essay ‘Flash of Two Whirls’ by Roy Thomas then details Garrick’s career with a canny concentration on psychologically-framed arch enemy The Thorn. She was a plant-themed villain who hid within an innocent and demure split personality called Rose, who only had two published appearances. A third “lost” adventure completes the comics section, then  follows one of many unpublished episodes shelved by the abrupt decline of superheroes at the end of the 1940s. How and why so much material was saved is also revealed in Thomas’ treatise before the action resumes with ‘Introducing the Thorn: The Flash’s Newest Opponent’.

Cover-dated November 1947, Flash Comics #89, the lead story was crafted by Robert Kanigher & Joe Kubert and detailed how a vicious, sexy criminal rampaged across the city pursued by the hero and her “sister”. Sporting a far more refined outfit, she resurfaced in Flash Comics #96 (June 1948, Kanigher & Kubert) threatening Keystone in ‘The Flash and the Thorn-Stalk’, before once again apparently perishing.

Seen here in stark monochrome, again by Kanigher & Kubert, ‘Strange Confession’ sat in a draw unpublished since 1948 until rescued by Marv Wolfman. Now it completes a trilogy of epic psycho-dramas as Rose and the Thorn battle the Fastest Man Alive again before being apparently cured by the intervention of the Justice Society of America

‘A Flash of Inspiration’ by Paul Kupperberg then sets the scene for the Allen Age of Comics…

No matter which way you look at it, the Silver Age of the American comic book began with The Flash. It’s an unjust but true fact that being first is not enough; it also helps to be best and people have to notice. MLJ’s The Shield beat Captain America to the newsstands by over a year, yet the former is all but forgotten today.

America’s comicbook industry had never really stopped trying to revive the superhero genre when Showcase #4 was released in late summer of 1956 (cover-dated October). The newsstands had already been blessed – but were left generally unruffled – by such tentative precursors as The Avenger (February-September 1955), Captain Flash (November 1954-July 1955) and a revival of Marvel’s Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and the aforementioned Captain America between December 1953 and October 1955.

Both DC’s own Captain Comet (December 1953-October 1955) and Manhunter from Mars (November 1955 until the end of the 1960’s and almost the last days of superheroes again!) had come and made little mark. What made the new Fastest Man Alive stand out and stick was … well, everything!

Once DC’s powers-that-be decided to seriously attempt superheroes once more, they moved pretty fast themselves. Editor Julie Schwartz asked office partner, fellow editor and Golden-Age Flash scripter Robert Kanigher to recreate a speedster for the Space Age, aided and abetted by Carmine Infantino and former flash artist Joe Kubert.

The new Flash was a forensic scientist simultaneously struck by lightning and bathed in exploding chemicals from his lab. Supercharged by the accident, Barry Allen cheekily took his superhero identity from an old comic book featuring his (at that time “fictional”) predecessor Jay Garrick. Designing a sleek, streamlined bodysuit (courtesy of Infantino – a major talent rapidly approaching his artistic and creative peak), Barry became point man for the spectacular revival of a genre and an entire industry.

From his spectacular run comes the pivotal event which marked the beginning of a way of life for so many addicted kids. Written by Kanigher, pencilled by Infantino and inked by Kubert, Showcase #4’s ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt!’was another quick-fire origin with crime story attached as the brand-new hero discovers his powers and mission and still finds time to defeat a modern iteration of the Turtle – a criminal mastermind dubbed “the Slowest Man Alive!”.

Following his meteoric launch in Showcase #4, the Flash was uncharacteristically slow in winning his own title, but finally (after three more cautiously released trial issues) finally stood on his own wing-tipped feet in The Flash #105 (February-March 1959 – so it was out for Christmas 1958). John Broome and Gardner Fox would write the bulk of the early tales, introducing a “big science” sensibility and – courtesy of Broome – an unmatched Rogues Gallery of fantastic foes which would become the template for all proper superheroes.

Crafted by John Broome, Infantino & Joe Giella, ‘Menace of the Super-Gorilla!’ comes from The Flash #106 (May 1959). It was the second story (behind the Pied Piper’s debut) and introduces one of the most charismatic and memorable baddies in comics history. Gorilla Grodd and his hidden race of super-simians debuted here – promptly returning for the next two issues – in a cunning yarn as the ultra-advanced ape invades the human world in search of the greatest mind on Earth, which he intends to subjugate for his own nefarious purposes…

Presumably this early confidence was fuelled by DC’s inexplicable but commercially sound pro-Gorilla editorial stance (for some reason any comic with a big monkey in it markedly outsold those that didn’t in those far-ago days), but these tales are also packed with tension, action and engagingly challenging fantasy concepts.

Next up is another landmark: two in fact…

The Flash #110 (January 1960) was a huge hit, not so much for the debut of another worthy candidate to the burgeoning Rogues Gallery in ‘The Weather Wizard’ but rather for the introduction of Wally West, who in a bizarre and suspicious replay of the lightning strike that created the Scarlet Speedster became a junior version of the Fastest Man Alive. Broome, Infantino & Giella’s ‘Meet Kid Flash!’ introduced the first sidekick of the Silver Age (cover dated December 1959-January 1960 and just pipping Aqualad who premiered in Adventure Comics #269 which had a February off-sale date). Not only would Kid Flash begin his own series of back-up tales from the very next issue (a sure sign of the confidence the creators had in the character) but he would eventually inherit the mantle of the Flash himself – one of the few occasions in comics where the torch-passing actually stuck…

Super-Editor Schwartz guaranteed a new epoch with his Showcase successes Flash, Adam Strange and Green Lantern, which directly led to the Justice League of America – and even more revivals. This in turn inspired Fantastic Four and the whole Marvel Empire, which changed the way comics were made and read…

Whereas 1940s tales were about magic and macho, the Silver Age varnished everything with a thick veneer of SCIENCE and a wave of implausible rationalistic concepts quickly filtered into the dawning mass-consciousness of a generation of baby-boomer kids. The most intriguing and rewarding was, of course, the notion of parallel worlds: the very crux of this celebration and a prime component of most modern fantasy serials in books, film, TV and comics.

The continuing adventures of the Scarlet Speedster became the bedrock of the Silver Age Revolution. After ushering in the triumphant return of the costumed superhero concept, the Crimson Comet – with Broome and Fox at the reins – set an unbelievably high standard for superhero adventure in sharp, witty tales of technology and imagination, illustrated with captivating style and clean simplicity by Infantino.

Fox didn’t write many Flash scripts at this time, but the few he did were all dynamite; none more so than the full-length epic which literally changed the scope of American comics forever.

‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (The Flash #123, September 1961 and inked by Giella) introduces the concept of alternate Earths to the continuity. The idea grew by careful extension into a multiversal structure comprising Infinite Earths. Once established as a cornerstone of a newly integrated DCU through a wealth of team-ups and escalating succession of cosmos-shaking crossover sagas, a glorious pattern was set which would, after joyous decades, eventually culminate in a spectacular Crisis on Infinite Earths

During a benefit gig Flash accidentally slips into another dimension where he finds the comic book hero upon whom he based his own superhero identity actually exists. Every ripping yarn he had avidly absorbed as an eager child was grim reality to Jay Garrick and his comrades on the controversially designated “Earth-2”. Locating his idol, Barry convinces the elder to come out of retirement just as three Golden Age villains make their own criminal comeback…

The floodgates were opened, and over the following months and years many Earth-1 stalwarts met their counterparts either via annual collaborations in the pages of Justice League of America or in their own series. Schwartz even had a game go at reviving a cadre of the older titans in their own titles. Public approval was decidedly vocal and he used DC’s try-out magazines to take the next step: stories set on Earth-2 exclusively featuring Golden Age characters, but of those bold sallies, only The Spectre briefly graduated to his own title…

When the Scarlet Speedster wasn’t boggling minds he was furiously fighting the best villains in comics. The inevitable had to happen – and finally did – in The Flash #155 (September 1965) when Broome teamed six of the Rogue’s Gallery into ‘The Gauntlet of Super-Villains!’: a bombastic Fights ‘n’ Tights extravaganza, but one with a hidden twist and a mystery foe concealed in the wings…

As tastes changed, The Flash evolved with them and survived the early 1970s downturn in superhero storytelling, but nobody was prepared for a truly big shock. When Cary Bates, Alex Saviuk & Frank Chiaramonte held ‘The Last Dance’in #275 (July 1979), it heralded the end of an era when comfortable married Barry was unable to prevent the murder of his beloved Iris by a truly insane enemy…

No, that’s not a spoiler. She came back. They always do: it’s just that nobody knew that back then and it did take decades to undo the evil act…

In the meantime, Barry moved on and began life as a widowed singleton. Anniversary epic The Flash #300 (August 1981, Bates, Infantino & Bob Smith) featured ‘1981- A Flash Odyssey’ comprising a deft recapitulation of his life and career, all wrapped up in a cunning and sadistic scheme to drive him mad perpetrated by his most vicious foe…

‘The Flash – A.K.A. Wally West’ by William Messner-Loebs ushers in the era of the third Flash as the DCU underwent a radical reboot during Crisis on Infinite Earths. Initially Wally West struggled to fill the boots of his predecessor, both in sheer ability and, more tellingly, in confidence. Feeling a fraud, he nonetheless persevered and eventually overcame, becoming the greatest to carry the name. Typifying that highly-engaging transition period comes ‘Nobody Dies’ (Flash #54 September 1991) by Messner-Loebs, Greg LaRocque & José Marzán Jr., focussing on the intricacies of the speedster’s powers as his hyper-fast abilities – and their limits – are tested whilst trying to save a flight attendant plunging from a aircraft…

Mark Waid discusses the hero’s ‘Legacy’ before ‘Out of Time’ from Flash #91 (June 1994) expands the dilemma of how much even the most powerful man can do in a classic mind-boggler by Waid, Mike Wieringo & Marzán Jr.

Towards the end of the 1990s the grand, old-fashioned Fights ‘n’ Tights mythology and methodology was given a bit of post-modern gloss when Caledonian wizards Grant Morrison and Mark Millar turned their considerable talents to Wally West incarnation of the Fastest Man Alive. In Flash #133 (cover-dated January 1998), the Celtic lads showed American writers how it’s all pronounced when Scottish legacy villain Mirror Master attacks a wounded and recuperating hero: abducting his bride-to-be Linda in ‘Flash Through the Looking Glass’. Illustrated by Paul Ryan & John Nyberg, the story features a spectacular race against time to prevent her de-aging out of existence and is followed by a memorable contribution from Geoff Johns, Scott Kolins & Dan Panosian. ‘Absolute Zero’ (Flash #182, March 2002) delves deep into the frosty psyche of arch rogue Len Snart as the chilling Captain Cold goes looking for the killer of his little sister Lisa

Reboots are an inescapable hazard of modern comics as publishers periodically seek to make old soldiers fresh and palatable to an ever-changing readership. In 2011 DC used the Flashpoint publishing event to restart their entire continuity in a project dubbed The New 52. As always, the result was instant attention-grabbing from the press but mixed results for the fans. The Flash weathered the change better than most and a new, younger Barry Allen returned to the streets of his city to start his career all over again.

Crafted by Francis Manapul and lettered by Steve Wands, ‘First Step’ offers a potent painted picture spread introducing the new-old vizier of velocity and is followed by a rehashed origin in Manapul & Brian Buccellato’s ‘Before the New 52’from The Flash #0: released in November 2012, a year after the big change.

TV Flash scripter Todd Helbing describes ‘The Impossible’ before we hit the final stretch with delightful and evocative short tale ‘Hope for the Holidays’ by Joshua Williamson & Neil Googe – taken from DC Holiday Special December 2017 and with Scarlet Speedster playing Christmas spirit – before The Flash Giant #2 (February 2019) provides ‘Get Out of the Kitchen’ by Gail Simone, Clayton Henry, reintroducing classic Rogue Mick Rory as a far nastier Heatwave.

Closing this immense commemorative tome comes Cover Highlights celebrating each era – the Golden, Silver, Bronze, Dark and Modern Ages – with a selection of unforgettable front images and a full roster of Biographies celebrating the many artist and writers who have passed on the baton since 1940.

One of the most revered comics heroes of all time, The Flash has probably been all things to most people in his/their time. Always exciting and never a waste of time, the hero is one no fan of the basics should miss. Why not try them all? It’s a marathon, not a sprint, right?
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